What did I say? What’s with him? I think he hates me. Are there people in your life who just don’t understand you? These are the folks who, no matter what you say or how you say it, seem to take you the wrong way. You say something nice, they hear criticism. If you are being friendly, they respond with snark. Sure, you can handle the everyday misunderstanding. You don’t expect to be everyone’s favorite person. But what is it with that one person who makes you feel that you just can’t win?

If this sounds familiar, and the person is someone with whom you have little interaction the easiest thing to do is ignore it, just let it go. On the other hand, if this sort of thing seems to happen regularly with someone you have to work with it can really make you miserable. So, what to do?

The only thing you can be certain of is your own feelings, and the only thing you can control is your own actions and reactions. That makes looking within the best place to start. Never mind how this person feels about you for the moment, what do you think of them? Is this someone you’d like to have a meal with, or invite to a party? If you think about it, you may find that you don’t really care for that person. That’s okay, and it’s a good clue. Are there things about this person that push your buttons – perhaps they remind you of someone you had a bad experience with, or maybe you are judging them based on background, accomplishments, success or failure?

Wait a second, you say? They’re the problem, not me! You may be right. It may also be true that this seemingly irrational person is picking up on cues from you, and reacting to that. If you take an honest assessment and you find that, yes, you are harboring some negativity toward the individual then there is an excellent chance that you are in some way contributing to the problem. Another possibility is that you don’t feel that way, but that your expectation of a negative reaction leads you to act in ways that bring out the worst in the other person.

Try this the next time you have to interact with this person and see if it makes a difference:

  1. Identify at least three things that you value in the person or lessons you can learn from them.
  2. Imagine the conversation you will have. Picture it going exactly the way you would want.
  3. Expect that your exchange will be a positive one.
  4. Avoid trying too hard or being overly nice

If you sincerely apply the strategies and nothing changes, then you have only one choice: Let it go. Keep your engagement to a minimum and don’t waste your precious emotional energy on something you can’t change.